This is a late review because I watched the movie recently. A lot has been written and said about it already. Appreciation of course, and well-deserved. I cannot write anything that has not been written yet. Still, I will attempt to share the parts that struck me the most.
I am assuming most people have watched this movie. This is a detailed review. If you have not yet watched it, please watch it first and come back to read my review.
You watch her misery
I usually think twice before watching a movie where I do not understand the language because it requires more concentration, and I have a very short attention span. This movie was in Malayalam. The language did not matter, because the dialogues are few.
You have to watch this movie. This sounds like a simple statement. I am emphasizing ‘watch’ because when you watch the movie you will know. Every scene will show you what the woman does in her daily life – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The chopping, preparing the masala, the grinding, the tadka, the sweeping, the mopping, washing the utensils, washing the clothes, cleaning the table after every meal, the clogging of the kitchen sink, the pipe leakage, the dirty pochha that she picks up from the corners to contain the leakage, the stinking kachra, the dirty dustbin, washing her hands with soap after removing the kachra, smelling her hands because the kachra smell doesn’t go away, feeling dirty when the husband tries to come close, the protest against previous day’s refrigerated food, the annoying male guest cooking one meal and leaving the kitchen filthy, and expecting an award thinking there is ‘no work left’, the annoying guest’s wife offering to help, but immediately agreeing to rest once the offer is politely refused.
The housework scenes are not edited. They are not fast forwarded. They are depicted the way it is. Raw. Messy. Time-consuming. They want to show you much time a woman spends doing this work, how frustrating it is and how it is the most non-gratifying work ever.
It gives her NOTHING and takes away every ounce of her energy and joy.
- The ‘nice’ men
The husband and the father-in-law are not aggressive men who will yell and beat up the wives. In the first few scenes, the husband is sweet to his wife. He hugs her and smiles at her, nicely tells her to offer the toothbrush to her father, doesn’t refuse when she wants to apply for a job, but rather tells her he will figure something out.
At one point, the couple goes out to eat at a restaurant. The wife jokes that outside the home, husband follows his table manners. (At home, this man is seen taking food from his mouth and littering it all over the table for the women to clean, like an uncontrollable toddler who is not potty trained).
The man gets very upset that the wife insulted his table ‘manners’. He makes her apologize and taunts her for her ‘manners’ in every possible conversation till the end of the movie.
His fragile ego is hurt because of course, truth hurts and he will never forget it.
The father-in-law too smiles and says things gently. The husband in the start of the relationship has the ‘nice guy’ demeanor. But once the conflicts starts, he starts showing his true colours one incident after another.
The ‘nice guy’ demeanor has fooled a lot of women.
In one scene, the wife tells her husband that it hurts a lot when they have sex and that had there been some foreplay it would be easier. She tells him nicely. She is scared to bring up the topic, because first she asks if she can say something, hope he doesn’t get angry.
Our hero repeats the word ‘Foreplay’ with a smirk. And then says, ‘So you know everything’. I thought that next thing, he will shame her by saying that she seems to have a lot of past experience. But instead, he says something even more hurtful.
‘I should feel something for you to engage in foreplay.’
For me, this one scene was very powerful. So far this man has been a typical chauvinist who wants his wife to cook and clean and adapt to his family values (read ‘housework’) and respect (read ‘obey’ his father). But from this scene onwards he starts making personal attacks at her. He knows that she probably doesn’t find him attractive but he must make her feel unattractive. Slowly, the ‘nice guy’ act is wearing off and his true self is getting revealed.
In another scene, he asks her to delete a video on Facebook that she has shared because a bunch of men from the neighborhood find it offensive. Even before he speaks to his wife, he assures those men that his wife will delete it.
This man is so small that his self-esteem totally depends upon how much of control he can exercise on his wife.
What is his true self?
He has nothing to give her except the married woman tag. He can only take from her. Her work, her energy, her dreams, her potential, her life.
The mother-in-law is not bad but a torchbearer of patriarchy
I felt bad for the mother-in-law also. She is the senior maid in her house until the son is married, and the only maid at her pregnant married daughter’s house who seems to have been married off in a rich family. The mother-in-law can change into a modern salwar kurta at her lazy daughter’s house but her fate remains the same.
Sadiyon se chakki peesing, peesing and peesing
Conditioned to believe that it is okay because she is doing it for her family in her home.
A mean aunt also turns up back at the heroine’s house to torture her during her periods because the father-in-law and the husband cannot speak or see her during ‘this time’ and therefore the torturing task is delegated to this all-knowing Aunty. This aunt is also a torch bearer of patriarchy telling a young woman how impure she is on her periods and making her sleep on the floor and isolate herself.
Such women have been treated like filth all their lives and when they find unsuspecting young daughters-in-law, their evil streak kicks in and it is payback time for them. They join the male perpetrators because they can finally live their sadist dream of inflicting the same cruelty on another women which they have been subjected to.
I hated this character more than her male counterparts.
The paid maid
There is a happy go lucky maid in the movie who is called to help out every time the heroine has her periods and cannot enter the kitchen. Initially when the heroine’s period started I felt happy that at least she will get a break from the housework.
I am distinguishing this lady as the ‘paid’ maid because the other women in the house are also maids, but unpaid ones. The paid maid is a happy character. She tells the heroine that she never reveals her period to potential employers because otherwise she will be unpaid for close to a week every month.
The paid maid sings songs while doing the housework. This is deliberate. Among all the women who are shown in this household, this woman is a working woman who is making a living and feeding her family. She might be poor, but she is earning and she knows how to fool the fools of patriarchy by hiding her periods and ensuring that she gets the money she needs.
She is an empowered character, someone who has accepted her fate, but also know how to survive.
A lot of women do not want a divorce because they feel that the husband can remarry easily however she will be left alone. This is not necessarily true. At least not anymore. May have been true a generation ago. But still it is a thought that a lot of women have.
For this reason, to me the ending of ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ is so good.
The husband remarries and he tells his new wife that so far his life was a ‘rehearsal’ and now he will rectify his mistakes. The new wife looks happy (now) and we watch as she continues to do the housework in the kitchen.
The heroine, who is now the ex-wife drives to a nice building where she teaches dance to young girls. The girls are all decked up for their performance and the heroine is finally doing something she likes.
Unlike old movies which always show the heroine finding a ‘better man’ at the end or the horrible man realizing his mistake and coming back, I like these movies that show the reality. Yes, she is single and he is married. It does not mean he has a one up. He has found someone new to exploit. We can only pity the fate of this new woman. Will he feel bad about losing her? Will he regret his actions? We will never know. Because we are not talking about a sensible person here. We are talking about evil people and their moral code if one at all is very different.
But does it matter?
The heroine has got her life back. Not having him around itself is a win for her. This is the happy ending that we could have hoped for. Her life is for her to live, and not a punishment determined by her husband and her in-laws.
‘The Great Indian Kitchen’ is a lifetime of misery, a metaphor for something bigger and sinister. It is great because it has existed forever and it will continue to exist. It is a place of exploitation, control and the end of a woman’s happiness and dreams. It will not break as it has far too many allies, from both genders.
Some women live with it.
Some try to challenge it from time to time.
But the smartest women know that leaving it is the only way to save herself.